Do You Need a Retirement Checkup?

Steering your way to a successful retirement means periodically evaluating your lifestyle, your health and whether it makes sense to change course. (iStockPhoto)

Retirement is a destination for sure, and one that we have been working toward for decades. But retirement is also a journey. It begins when we leave work and can easily last for 20 or 30 years. As with any journey, it sometimes makes sense to stop and review where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Here are six questions to ask yourself that will help you stay on track in your retirement journey.

How am I doing? Ed Koch, the plain-spoken mayor of New York City from 1978-89, would famously stop people on the street and ask, “How’m I doin’?” He wanted to know if he was doing the right things or if he should turn his focus to other issues. We retirees should ask ourselves the same question now and then. You likely had a vision of what your retirement would look like. You might have even had some specific plans. Think about your lifestyle. Have you retired to Arizona like you planned? Or are you still living in your family home, cutting the grass and storing boxes of stuff for your kids? If you haven’t launched your retirement life, what’s stopping you?

Am I bored? Endless days of relaxing by the pool and watching sports on TV may sound like a blissful life on Easy Street. But for most of us, especially if we retire early, this lifestyle gets old, and the lack of any schedule or responsibility or social interaction can leave us feeling bored and depressed. So if you didn’t have much of a plan when you retired, or if your original plans no longer seem very satisfying, now might be the time to develop some new interests, make different plans and meet other people.

What has changed? Retirement involved a transition from working and saving to relaxing and spending, from answering to other people to answering only to yourself. But the way we begin that process may not involve the same lifestyle that we settle into a few years down the line. Maybe your dream was to travel. But now that you’ve been on four or five major trips, you’re happy to settle down and stay home. As we get older, as our kids start having kids of their own, as our interests change, it only makes sense to re-evaluate our expectations and alter course.

How’s your health? How we feel and what we can accomplish depends in large part on our health. Do you have all the energy you want? Are you exercising and eating right? Are you up-to-date on your medical tests – annual checkups, colonoscopies, dental work, eye exams? Now that you’re retired, there are no more excuses for not taking care of yourself. But remember: Good health can pose its own challenges. The longer you live, the greater your risk of running low on money. So most of us need to plan for a long life, including the possibility of long-term care. But that’s a good problem, isn’t it?

Are any financial surprises in store? When you set out in retirement, you probably had an idea of your everyday expenses, then took into account some discretionary items – a new car or a trip to Hawaii – and developed a plan to balance your financial resources with your spending expectations. But sometimes we get a surprise. If you receive an inheritance, you might make more ambitious plans. If you suddenly face a big medical bill or major home improvement, you might have to make some cuts in your discretionary expenses. Or suppose your adult child suffers a setback and needs to move back home for a while. If your adult kids don’t throw you a surprise, your aging parents might.

Do you need to change course? Is there anything about your retirement that hasn’t measured up to expectations? Maybe you’ve checked a few items off your bucket list, and now you’re ready for more. Or maybe some of your original items no longer seem interesting and you’re ready for something different. One woman volunteered after she retired, working at her community college and her senior center. Eventually she felt she reached a plateau and wanted more. So she turned her volunteer job into a part-time paying position. Another retiree took off to travel the world. Then the grandchildren came, and now a trip to Disney World seems more exciting than biking through Europe. Change doesn’t stop because we’re retired. Sometimes it pays to re-evaluate and consider if you still want to continue in the same direction, or if it’s time for a course correction.

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